Death of Dr. James Simon President Hilfsverein Der Deutschen Juden
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Death of Dr. James Simon President Hilfsverein Der Deutschen Juden

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Dr. James Simon, the President of the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden for more than 30 years, practically since the day of its formation, died suddenly this morning following a heart attack.

The body will be cremated on Thursday, but the hour and place are kept secret by Dr. Simon’s wish, to avoid any public gathering.

Last September, when he celebrated his 80th. birthday, Dr. James Simon was the recipient of numerous congratulations from all parts of the world, from Jewish and general bodies, and personages. All German newspapers devoted pages on that occasion to articles paying tribute to Dr. Simon’s activities during the course of his long life as a German industrialist and as one of the greatest benefactors of German art institutions.

The Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden on the initiative of Herr Max Warburg, established at that time a James Simon Hilfsverein Endowment Fund, to which his friends and admirers, both members of the Hilfsverein and others, sent contributions for the purpose of perpetuating the work of the Hilfsverein in commemoration of its President’s 80th. birthday. Herr Max Warburg, in moving the resolution, expressed his admiration of the great work that had been done by Dr. James Simon, and said that German Jewry and all the Jewries of the world that had benefited by the work of the Hilfsverein had reason to be grateful to Dr. Simon to whom the Hilfsverein owed its existence.


As recently as April 3rd. of this year, Dr. James Simon presided at the annual meeting of the Hilfsverein, and it was on his motion that the Hilfsverein established the Eugen Landau Endowment Fund in honour of the 80th. birthday of Consul-General Eugen Landau, who together with him and the late Dr. Paul Nathan formed the trio of founders of the Hilfsverein and has been Vice-President almost since its foundation, having been the original President for a short time until, on account of his growing business interests, he resigned in favour of Dr. Simon.

On the appeal of Herr Max Warburg for the formation of a James Simon Fund, Dr. Simon said in the course of his speech, 182,000 Marks have come in for the Fund, which have enabled the Hilfsverein to continue many of its activities, for which it has received expressions of gratitude from the Jewish population of Eastern Europe, at whose side it has stood all these years.

Dr. Simon went on to pay tribute to the memory of those members of the Hilfsverein who had died since the previous annual meeting, and also of the late Julius Rosenwald in his capacity as one of the leaders of the American Jewish Committee and the Joint Distribution Committee, recalling that shortly before his death, he had sent a contribution to the Hilfsverein for the occasion of his own (Dr. Simon’s) 80th. birthday.

Dr. Joachimssohn, the treasurer, of the Hilfsverein, in presenting the financial statement, said that though income had diminished, a considerable sum had come in for the James Simon Fund, which made it possible for them to say with pride that despite all difficulties the Hilfsverein had not had to give up any of its branches of work, but on the contrary had extended its work during the past year.

The James Simon Fund had in 1931, with the consent of Dr. James Simon, given 7,000 Marks to the Biram Schools in Haifa, he reported, and was giving 11,000 Marks in 1932 to schools in Poland, Roumania and the Orient.

Rabbi Dr. Ludwig Rosenthal, of Cologne, speaking at the meeting for the members of the Hilfsverein, paid a warm tribute to Dr. James Simon for his leadership of the organisation during the whole of the 30 years of its existence.


In recognition of Dr. James Simon’s immense gifts to the German National art galleries and the archeological museums of Berlin, a bronze bust of Dr. Simon was on September 16th., the day preceding his 80th. birthday, unveiled in the State Museum in Berlin, and a commemoration slab was put up in the Berlin Museum of Egyptology. The German Orient Society, whose important excavations at El-Amara he financed, created a James Simon Fund for the purpose of continuing the excavations {SPAN}t###{/SPAN} there, started on his initiative and with his funds, which have brought to Berlin some of the most renowned examples of ancient Egyptian art, Dr. Simon’s gift to the city. Among these is the world-famous bust of Queen Nephroteta, wife of the Pharoah Amenophis IV., and mother-in-law of Tut ankh-Amen, of which the British Museum has a copy, and reproductions of which are widely spread throughout the world.

The “Berliner Tageblatt” published an article by the famous poet and art critic Adolph Donath, who wrote:

If Wilhelm von Bode (Germany’s greatest art authority) were still alive, he would have declared to morrow, when James Simon becomes 80 years of age, that the Berlin museums have no nobler friend than this James Simon, and that his name is closely linked with the development of our art institutions, and with the achievements of German art and archeology. The history of Berlin knows no second case of such self-sacrificing work in the interest of its museums and of the Community at large. Wilhelm von Bode described him as an illuminating example, and he repeatedly praised his old friend James Simon for having had the courage and the great understanding to present his treasures to the museums. The James Simon gifts, he declared, have contributed immensely to the world fame enjoyed now by our Berlin museums.

Dr. James Simon, who was born in Berlin on September 17th., 1851, succeeded his father as the head of one of the largest wool concerns in the world-the firm of Simon Brothers of Berlin. As such he played a prominent part in German economic life, and was for many years Vice-President of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Reichsbank.

In the midst of his business activities, he found time to devote himself to the study of art and he quickly made his reputation as one of the most informed authorities on art, and one of the biggest donors to the German national art collections.

He presented to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum his collection of old Masters of the Italian Renaissance, bronzes, medals, coins, etc., which are displayed in the James Simon Room of the Museum. He also presented to it his famous collection of German wood sculptures and Gobelins.

He was one of the founders of the German Orient Society in 1898, and he contributed largely towards the financing of its excavations in kesopotamia, in Babylon, in 1898-1912, Ashur in 1902-14; in Palestine, at Jericho and on the site of the ancient synagogues of Galilee, in Egypt, at Abusir, near Cairo, at Abusir el Meneq, at El Amarna, in 1908-14, and in Asia Minor, at Boghazkoi.

It was at El-Amarna that the famous Nephreteta bust was found. Together with the other objects found there, it was brought to Berlin shortly before the outbreak of the war, and the various exhibits were to have been placed in the Egyptian Department of the Berlin Archeological Ruseum. Owing to the war, however, the building of the pavilion was stopped and the cases remained unpacked until the end of the war. It came as a surprise when the cases were unpacked at the end of the war, and the value of the finds was realised. The Egyptian Government intervened, demanding that Dr. James Simon should return to it the Nepheteta bust, and when he refused to do this, the matter was taken to the Peace Conference at Versailles, the Egyptian Government demanding that the bust should be delivered up by Germany as part of the war payments. The Egyptian claim failed, however, and the bust has remained-in-the possession of the German people. When King Fuad was in Europe in 1929 it was stated that he had gone to Berlin specially to see Dr. James Simon, and persuade him to accede to the Egyptian demand.


Before the war Dr. James Simon was counted as one of the twelve wealthiest men in Germany. His fortune was estimated at about 50 million Marks, and his firm was considered one of the largest textile firms in all Europe.

Since the war, however, the firm had been very hard hit, and Dr. James Simon, and his partner and cousin, the late Dr. Eduard Simon, had to make heavy sacrifices to keep it going. In August 1929, the situation became desperate, and Dr. Eduard Simon, feeling that he could no longer save it from collapse committed suicide.

As one of the wealthiest Jews in Germany, and feeling his responsibility towards the Jewish populations of the East European countries, Dr. James Simon got together in 1901 with Ferr Eugen Landau, who is still Vice-President of the Filfsverein, and with the late Dr. Paul Nathan, and the result was the establishment of the Hilfsverein. He had before that already been active in a number of Jewish welfare institutions in Germany. He was one of the founders of the Technical High School in Haifa, and until the end of 1929, he was a member of the Council of the Jewish Colonisation Association (Ica).

It is in the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden that Dr. James Simon did his most important work. He helped to bring it into existence because he realised that while France, England, America and other countries had their representative Jewish bodies conducting a systematic social and cultural

relief work on behalf of the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe and the Orient who were suffering from political and economic oppression, there was no such organisation yet in Germany. The Hilfsverein under his leadership threw itself into the educational work in Palestine and in the other countries of the Near East, it organised emigrant welfare activity in Germany, and conducted a large-scale relief work during the pogroms in Russia and Roumania, during the Balkan War of 1912-13, and especially during the Great War, when it did a great deal to alleviate the condition of the Jewish masses in the countries occupied by the German armies. Dr. James Simon visited a number of places where Jews were suffering as a result of the war operations, and with the help of the German occupation authorities was able to assist them considerably.

He also took very seriously his duties as a member of the Council of the Jewish Colonisation Association (Ica), and until his advancing age made it necessary for him to resign two years ago, he regularly attended the meetings of the Council and took an active part in its great work on behalf of the Jewish populations of the Argentine, Brazil, Palestine, Poland, Bessarabia and the many other countries in which the Ica conducts its activities.

In the “C. V. Zeitung”, the organ of the Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, Dr. Ernst Feder wrote at the time of his 80th. birthday:

James Simon was one of the few merchant princes in a monarchy which had many merchant princes, and he is a merchant prince still in the Republic in which many have not yet realised the special duties to the State which and the obligation of its leading men; he is a model of the citizen who knows and does his duty to the State.

The Kaiser, whom he met through his friend, Admiral Hollman, sought his company for he knew that James Simon wanted nothing from him and that with him, too, it was James Simon who was the one to give. He refused all outward shows and honours. He laughed at it when the rumour once went round in Berlin that he had been raised to be a Privy Councillor, with the title of Excellency. He refused orders and titles, and elevation to the nobility which were open to him, but he was proud of the honorary doctorate which the art connoisseurs and art lovers of Berlin University conferred upon him as a rare distinction. The congratulations which are pouring in on this youthful octagenarian go to show what a proud possession such a man is to the land to which he belongs, and to German Jewry from which he has sprung, and among whose most important representatives he is numbered.

The “Berliner Zeitung-am-Mittag” wrote:

At the turn of the century, Simon was known as the friend of the Kaiser. It is true that this merchant of the Kloster Strasse enjoyed the special favour of the monarch, but he bore it with a modesty behind which there was a great deal of pride and determination never to exploit it, and although he was of ten offered nobility, he resolutely refused it. When it was announced in 1904 that he was to be raised to the Upper House of the German Parliament, and an outcry was started because he was a Jew he immediately informed the powers that be that he declined the honour, which they intended to pay him.

By a coincidence, the annual report of the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden for 1931 was published to-day, containing a photograph of Dr. James Simon, and photographs of the Vicu-President, Consul-General Eugen Landau and of the late Dr. Paul Nathan, as well as a photograph of the tombstone in Lausanne over the grave of Professor Haffkine, who left his fortune to the Hilfsverein for the Haffkine Endowment for Yeshibahs.

The annual report also gives a survey of the work of the James Simon Fund.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund